Guide for Developing and Implementing Interpretation Policies

Table of Contents

1. Purpose

This guide outlines the requirements that departments and agencies must meet when developing and implementing interpretation policies.

These requirements address the commitments outlined in the Government of Canada's Red Tape Reduction Action Plan, namely:

"The government will require regulators to publish interpretation policies on their websites that explain how they interpret regulations, including when they can be counted on to give answers to stakeholders' questions in writing."

2. Effective Date

This guidance takes effect immediately on distribution to departments.

3.  Context

Canadians frequently contact the Government of Canada with questions about the federal regulations that impact them. Questions can run from the basic (e.g., Which form do I need to complete?) to the more technical (e.g., For my product to be considered a "snow tire," what testing and labelling requirements must be met?). For those asking such questions, the goal is to quickly obtain accurate information and guidance that will allow them to comply with regulatory requirements. Predictability is also important so that Canadians and businesses can be confident that compliance actions taken by them are based on reliable government information and guidance.

Federal regulators use various approaches and tools to promote awareness and understanding of regulatory requirements and to facilitate stakeholder compliance. Besides responding to questions from regulated parties, departments and agencies regularly develop and implement compliance and enforcement plans, issue guidance and information materials, and engage stakeholders. Being flexible and able to right-size approaches and tools to meet specific stakeholder needs and address real world risks and operating conditions is essential to the provision of timely, appropriate and accurate information and guidance that enables compliance.

The government is committed to further improving the predictability and transparency of the federal regulatory system to better serve Canadians and businesses. To this end, and in accordance with the government's Red Tape Reduction Action Plan, departments and agencies are required to develop and link, on their Acts and Regulations web page, an interpretation policy that outlines their commitment to service, stakeholder engagement, and predictability, including outlining when they will respond to questions in writing.

4.  Area of Application

This guide applies to all federal departments, agencies, and entities, as defined by Section 3 of the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management (refer to Table 1).

Table 1. Section 3 of the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management

7.  Federal departments, agencies and entities: The Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management applies to all federal departments, agencies, and entities over which the Cabinet has either general authority or a specific authority relating to regulation making, or both such authorities:

  1. Federal departments, agencies, and entities under the general authority of Cabinet include all of the public administration, including ministers, with the exception of certain federal entities that are created by statute and that have an existence, a mandate, and powers with substantial independence from the government.
  2. Entities not under the general authority of Cabinet must comply with the Directive if the Governor in Council or the Treasury Board has a specific authority related to regulation making
  3. Entities not under the general authority of Cabinet and over which Cabinet does not have a specific authority should, as a matter of good regulatory practice, follow the Directive and apply its requirements as appropriate to their context.

5. Definitions

For the purpose of this guide, the following definitions apply:

Interpretation:
Interpretation includes information and/or guidance provided in verbal or written form by government officials to Canadians and businesses on a regulation or a specific requirement of a regulation to facilitate understanding, awareness and compliance. This can include a wide spectrum of activities and services from answering regular enquiries by phone or email to developing guidance documents, fact sheets, frequently asked questions, etc., to issuing formal rulings or decisions.
Interpretation policy:
An interpretation policy is an overarching document that outlines the commitments, practices, and tools to be applied by a department or agency when providing Canadians and businesses with information and guidance on regulatory obligations to be met. It also identifies the conditions under which written responses to questions will be provided.
Regulation:
A regulation is an instrument that is registered as a regulation under Section 6 of the Statutory Instruments Act. It includes both Governor in Council (GIC) and non-GIC regulations.

6.  Principles

Interpretation policies should be developed and organized by departments and agencies according to the following principles: 

Predictability: 
Ensure consistency in guidance and commitment to plain and clear language.
Service:
Serve Canadians with professionalism and provide accurate, timely and respectful service.
Stakeholder engagement:
Engage stakeholders to identify regulatory requirements that require guidance and in developing such guidance.
Improvement:
Seek to improve delivery of interpretation services, based on experience and feedback from Canadians and business.

7.  Requirements

Departments must develop an interpretation policy, following the template provided in Appendix C , and publish this policy on their Acts and Regulations web page using the template provided in Appendix B.

The mandatory sections of an interpretation policy are:

  • Departmental/Agency Context
  • Predictability
  • Service
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Improvement

These policy elements are described in further detail in sections 7.1 to 7.5.

Departments and agencies have discretion to address the mandatory policy elements in a way that best captures the tailored approaches and mechanisms required to meet the specific needs of their stakeholders and address operational and regulatory realities. Approaches may also vary within an organization and/or across a given portfolio.

The policy should not be an exhaustive inventory of all regulatory information and guidance provided by a department or agency, but should offer representative examples that demonstrate how that organization will deliver on its interpretation policy commitments.

Although regulation is the main focus of the policy, departments may include information and guidance related to policies, Acts of Parliament, etc.

7.1 Departmental/Agency Context

Departments and agencies are to identify the scope of application for their interpretation policy (e.g., department/portfolio-wide or targeted to specific areas) and provide a brief contextual overview that explains the department's operating context and other related factors that provide the supporting rationale for the department's interpretation policy.

7.2 Predictability

7.2.1 Plain Language Commitment

The use of plain language in developing regulatory guidance and information can help avoid ambiguities and facilitate greater awareness and understanding. In general, Canadians and businesses want to voluntarily comply with regulations and their requirements, and this is easier to do if they understand what is being asked of them. Making regulations and compliance requirements easier to understand also reduces the administrative burden on Canadians and businesses in particular, who might expend unnecessary resources to interpret regulations (including paying third-party experts). For highly technical regulations, it is important to acknowledge complexity while seeking to apply plain language to the fullest extent possible.

In their interpretation policy, departments must include a commitment to use plain language. They may identify existing departmental guidance on plain language drafting, focusing specifically on interpretation, as well as other mechanisms used to ensure plain language standards are met (e.g., review of draft materials by stakeholders).

In addition, in order to provide stakeholders with clear and consistent regulatory information, departments must develop and link Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to their 10 most accessed regulations on their Acts and Regulations web pages (see Appendix A for mandatory questions to address in the FAQs). Departments must regularly update their FAQs to include responses to regulatory questions that they receive on a recurring basis.

Departments must develop FAQs whenever they bring forward new regulatory proposals (new regulations or regulatory amendments) that impact on business, and link them to the final regulations on their Acts and Regulations web pages. Departments must also develop FAQs for areas identified by stakeholders as problematic through the required 2014–15 consultations on interpretation policy improvements.

7.2.2 Providing Guidance and Building Awareness

Departments and agencies reach out to Canadians and businesses, through a variety of ways, to build awareness of regulatory requirements, especially when implementing changes in regulation or interpretation. Such activities include, for example, developing and posting guidance documents on departmental websites, notifying stakeholders by email when new guidance is available, holding online training (e.g., webinars, etc.), collecting and posting answers to frequently asked questions, or updating stakeholders during regular meetings. Such activities also align with the broader government objective of fostering open and transparent government and increasing the ease with which Canadians can find, access, and use government information, especially through web-based tools.

In this section of the interpretation policy, departments and agencies should identify and describe the different communications approaches and tools used to build awareness and understanding of regulatory compliance requirements and ensure consistency in the provision of guidance and information. Linking to online content and tools is encouraged.

7.2.3 Responding to Questions

When they need more information or clarification on regulatory requirements, Canadians and businesses expect government to provide timely, accurate, and helpful answers to their questions. Consistency between answers given today and possible enforcement actions in the future is also key so that Canadians and businesses can act with confidence when following such guidance.

In their interpretation policy, departments and agencies are to outline their practices for responding to regulatory questions. This includes explaining the means used for responding to questions, especially the conditions under which written responses to questions are provided, and a commitment to being clear about the extent to which such responses are intended to be binding on the department or agency. The policy must also include a service timeliness commitment for responding to stakeholder questions.

Departments may also describe internal practices and tools used to improve the quality and consistency of the answers given by officials (e.g., standard protocols for obtaining information from enquiring parties so as to fully and accurately understand and answer questions; information or document checklists to limit repeat information requests; and databases for tracking the timeliness of responses to questions). For related issues and complaints processes, see section 7.3.2.

7.3 Service

7.3.1 Service Commitment

Excellence in service is expected by Canadians and is central to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Departmental interpretation policies must include a commitment to service professionalism when dealing with Canadians and businesses. This may include interpretation-specific service commitments along with broader commitments to professionalism (e.g., treating business representatives, stakeholders and Canadians with respect and courtesy). Departments may draw upon or adapt existing service charters and other materials for this purpose.

7.3.2 Service Accountability

In the event that Canadians or businesses encounter problems (e.g., poor service or inconsistent guidance), they should have access to opportunities to register complaints so that specific or recurring issues can be addressed. Many regulators encourage stakeholders to first contact the officer or manager directly involved to see if a fair and appropriate solution can be found, while other regulators may start with this step, but then offer a formal appeal or third-part review process.

In this section, departments and agencies should identify practices and tools used to receive, track and respond to issues or complaints raised by Canadians and businesses regarding regulatory guidance or answers to questions.

7.3.3 Staff Training

To deliver on their service commitment, departments and agencies need to ensure that their officials have the necessary skills and technical knowledge to provide quality service and accurate regulatory guidance. Related departmental or agency practices and commitments should be outlined in this section of the policy.

7.4 Stakeholder Engagement

7.4.1 Commitment to Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement and meaningful consultation are long-standing policy requirements of the federal government. Open and inclusive stakeholder engagement helps identify concerns, develop consensus, minimize implementation burden, test and improve solutions, and facilitate stakeholder understanding and awareness of regulatory changes.

Departmental interpretation policies must include a commitment to engage stakeholders, as appropriate, when developing, reviewing or refining practices and materials for providing information and guidance on regulatory compliance and answering questions. 

7.4.2 Stakeholder Engagement Practices

Departments and agencies should identify representative practices and tools that they use to engage Canadians and businesses in the development and review of regulatory information and guidance (e.g., send draft guidance to a random sample of stakeholders for feedback; hold roundtables with industry on new information materials; use online surveys to receive immediate feedback from users on their experience using online tools; or have an "open door" policy for receiving feedback on existing materials).

7.5 Improvement

To drive further improvements in the delivery of interpretation services, departments and agencies are to make a commitment, in their interpretation policy, to undertake the following steps: (i) check-in with stakeholders in 2014–15 on current interpretation practices (e.g., what is working well and what needs improvement?); (ii) by , identify areas for improvement and metrics for evaluating their implementation; and (iii) implement these improvements over two years and then update Canadians on performance in implementing these improvements, by .

All subsequent reports on improvement priorities, metrics and implementation performance should be posted on the organization's website with links appearing on the interpretation policy web page (see Appendix B).

8.  Implementation

8.1 Approvals

Departments and agencies should:

  • Establish internal governance and approval processes to ensure deputy head approval of the interpretation policy for linking on their website. 
  • Follow established government communications procedures for securing approval and linking their interpretation policies and related information on their website.
  • Involve their legal affairs team in the development of their interpretation policy.  

8.2 Implementation Timelines

Key deadlines for interpretation policies and related information are presented in Table 2. More detailed information on requirements can be found in section 7.

Table 2: Implementation Overview

Deadlines

Requirements

Four weeks from receipt of final guide

Departments and agencies to link their interpretation policy on their Acts and Regulations web page and their top 10 FAQs.

  1. Departments and agencies to have completed their engagement with stakeholders.
  2. Departments and agencies to identify and post their improvement priorities, including FAQs addressing problem areas identified through stakeholder consultation, and metrics to assess implementation on their website, with a link from their Interpretation Policy page.

Departments and agencies to post their update to Canadians on outcomes in implementing the priorities against the identified metrics on their website, with a link from their Interpretation Policy page.

Ongoing

Departments to regularly update their FAQs to include responses to regulatory questions that they receive on a recurring basis.

8.3 Templates 

To ensure that all information is displayed in a similar manner across government, interpretation policies are to be linked on departmental Acts and Regulations web pages following the web content and layout templates provided in Appendices B and C, and based on the outline provided in Appendix D.

Appendix B provides the web content and layout for departmental Acts and Regulations web pages, in accordance with the requirements of the Guide on Forward Planning and Related Measures to Improve the Transparency and Predictability of the Federal Regulatory System. In particular, a link to the department's interpretation policy is to be included in departmental Acts and Regulations web pages.

Appendix C of this guide illustrates the web layout and content for interpretation policies. Departments or agencies may elect to further subdivide some sections (e.g., by regulation, enabling legislation, program centre, or area of application) so as to make the presentation clearer, as well as more intuitive for Canadians and businesses. As information on improvement priorities and implementation are posted, links should be added to the bottom of the Interpretation Policy web page.

9.  Roles and Responsibilities

9.1 Deputy Heads

Deputy heads are responsible for implementing the requirements of this guide. This includes developing and linking to interpretation policies on departmental Acts and Regulations web pages and the process for engaging stakeholders and identifying, implementing and measuring against improvement priorities.

9.2 Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat's Regulatory Affairs Sector will review departmental websites to ensure that departments and agencies have met the requirements identified in section 8.2.

10. Enquiries

Questions about these guidelines should be sent to Public Enquiries. For information on departmental interpretation policies, please contact the appropriate department directly.

Appendix A: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following questions should form the basis of the FAQs as per section 7.2.1. This list is not exhaustive. Departments are encouraged to determine, through stakeholder engagement, additional questions and answers to include in their FAQs.

  1. What is the purpose of this regulation?
  2. What are the key elements of this regulation?
  3. How does this regulation affect Canadian businesses?
  4. What is the timeline for implementation?
  5. Where can I get more information?
  6. Additional FAQs, as appropriate.
  7. Departments must regularly update their FAQs to include responses to regulatory questions that they receive on a recurring basis.

Appendix B: Web Content for Departmental Acts and Regulations Web Page

Departments and agencies are to add a link on their Acts and Regulations web page to the interpretation policy. 

Acts and Regulations

[existing/new department-specific introductory content appears here]

What are we doing?

As a department, [insert name of department] is responsible for the following:

  • List of Acts
  • List of Regulations
  • Forward Regulatory Plan
  • Service Standards for High-Volume Regulatory Authorizations
  • Interpretation Policy
  • Departmental Actions to respond to the Red Tape Reduction Commission's Recommendations Report
  • Other departmental regulatory information (optional)

All of the government's Acts and Regulations can be found on the Justice Canada website.

For more information

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit the Canada Gazette and Consulting with Canadians websites.

Frequently Asked Questions: Regulations

The FAQs below are meant to provide Canadians and businesses with basic information about [insert name of department]'s regulations.Footnote 1

[Title of Regulation with link to Justice Canada]

  1. What is the purpose of this regulation?
  2. What are the key elements of this regulation?
  3. How does this regulation affect Canadian businesses?
  4. What is the timeline for implementation?
  5. Where can I get more information?

[Additional FAQs, as appropriate]

For more information

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit the Canada Gazette and Consulting with Canadians websites.

Appendix C: Web Content for Interpretation Policy

This is the mandatory web layout for the Interpretation Policy web page. Sections may be further subdivided, as appropriate.

An interpretation policy is an overarching document that outlines the commitments, practices and tools to be applied by a department or agency when providing Canadians and businesses with information and guidance on regulatory obligations to be met. It also identifies the conditions under which written responses to questions will be provided.

  • Departmental/Agency Context
  • Predictability
    • Plain Language Commitment
    • Providing Guidance and Building Awareness
    • Responding to Questions
  • Service
    • Service Commitment
    • Service Accountability
    • Staff Training
  • Stakeholder Engagement
    • Commitment to Stakeholder Engagement
    • Stakeholder Engagement Mechanisms
  • Improvement
  • Related Reports [to be added starting ]
    • [link to improvement priorities and metrics]
    • [link to implementation report]
  • For more information

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit the Canada Gazette and Consulting with Canadians websites.

Appendix D: Interpretation Policy Outline

This mandatory template is provided for departments to use to obtain internal approval of the interpretation policy. Sections may be further subdivided, as appropriate.

  • Interpretation Policy

    An interpretation policy is an overarching document that outlines the commitments, practices and tools to be applied by a department or agency when providing Canadians and businesses with information and guidance on regulatory obligations to be met. It also identifies the conditions under which written responses to questions will be provided.

  • Departmental/Agency Context
  • Predictability
    1. Plain Language Commitment
    2. Providing Guidance and Building Awareness
    3. Responding to Questions
  • Service
    1. Service Commitment
    2. Service Accountability
    3. Staff Training
  • Stakeholder Engagement
    1. Commitment to Stakeholder Engagement
    2. Stakeholder Engagement Practices
  • Improvement
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